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I’m On Goodreads

Yes, like many “bloggers” I can get pretty loose with the actual blogging part. It’s not unusual to go weeks, months – even years – without a post. It’s not really procrastination, lack of motivation, laziness, or disinterest. It’s just firing up the web browser and typing something, without getting distracted. Let’s chalk it down to that modern malady of the internet age… pretty poor attention spans.

But I still love to read, and lately I’ve been keeping track of the books I’ve read with Goodreads , a social reading group of sorts, not that I actually use the social part much, but feel free to add me!. I’ve been rating the books I’ve enjoyed and entering some quick reviews if I remember to. I’ve also been adding in those books I can remember reading from the past, i.e. pre-goodreads.

This is actually pretty helpful. You can keep track of your reads, sure, but you can also notice other users who like the books you did. You can follow these reviewers or befriend them. You can also become a fan of your favorite authors. There’s lots of lists there too to help you see what’s popular, as well as quizzes and other frivolous stuff, but the best part is all those ratings you diligently enter will help the Goodreads recommendation engine find you something cool to read next.

Of course recommendation engines aren’t perfect, but this one is pretty darned good. With the lists and other reviewers you’ll never waste time on a useless book or miss an excellent one again. Your mileage may vary.

Anyway. There’s a few techniques I use to find new stuff to read, from award winners (e.g. Hugo and Nebula for scifi), recommendations from blogs, bestsellers, newsworthy titles, even that tried and tested Cool Cover coin toss, but Goodreads makes it all nice and simple. You may even find that holy grail, a new author you love with a long and interesting series of books you’ve yet to sample… No more waiting for the next title, yay!

Goodreads is part of the Amazon empire these days (a controversial step for some) and there’s also a good app for Android / Apple which is doubly good if you read on a tablet.

Here’s a widget from Goodreads and I’ve also put a button on the sidebar. See you there 😉

Stuart’s bookshelf: read

5 of 5 stars
This is one of the classics of cyberpunk literature along with William Gibson’s "Sprawl" trilogy that started with Neuromancer. It’s also one of the books I put off reading for whatever reason, but I’m so glad I did get around to it now….
tagged:
sci-fi

5 of 5 stars
Ok. I’m guessing this "review" will be pretty similar to others here. Basically, if you meet the target demographic, you’ll love this.

That is, if you’re a geeky 80’s kid and love technology, gaming, classic arcade machines, eighties mu…

tagged:
sci-fi

5 of 5 stars
Avery Cates is a Gunner, a hitman for hire in a grimy slum that was once New York City. Post Unification, the world is policed by the System Cops ("Pigs") who answer to no-one except their head of internal affairs, Richard Marin – the re…
tagged:
sci-fi

5 of 5 stars
Set in a post apocalypse London (Metrozone) Samuel Petrovitch keeps his past a secret as he carves out a career as a brilliant physicist.

Since the civilized world has been devastated by a series of bomb attacks by Armageddonists much …

tagged:
sci-fi

5 of 5 stars
In my eyes this is the best of the Dagmar Shaw series (so far?) even though here we really follow Sean Makin in first person and Dagmar is relegated to a bit player, albeit an important one.

Sean is a washed up ex-child star, appearing …

tagged:
sci-fi and crime

3 of 5 stars
If you liked "This Is Not A Game" then you’ll *maybe* like this. Most of the characters from the first book return, but this time Dagmar is head of Great Big Idea and she’s running an ARG in Turkey – first to promote the new James Bond m…
tagged:
crime and sci-fi

4 of 5 stars
Very interesting, and although I came to this from the Dread Empires Fall series by Walter Jon Williams I wasn’t disappointed in the least that it’s a totally different beast!

Dagmar Shaw runs ARGs – Actual Reality Games – but after bei…

tagged:
sci-fi and crime




goodreads.com

Ashens and the quest for the Gamechild / Knightmare

Ok. This is an exclusive, full length movie exclusively on Youtube . It’s really a no-budget film , released on TheMultiverse Youtube Channel that was started by Warwick Davis . It’s also part of Youtube’s Geek Week.

The plot concerns Ashens, a collector of “tat”, seeking out the elusive Gamechild. It stars various Youtube characters (plus special guests), especially Stuart Ashen (famous for his reviews of junk gadgets).  I was really quite impressed by the filming and camera work and it reminded me a lot of the Simon Pegg / Nick Frost style, with perhaps a smattering of The Mighty Boosh. It has that slightly left-field British comedic feel. As they say YMMV but I was entertained for the full hour-and-a-half, which I can’t say is true for many recent releases!

The best way to watch this is probably to download the HD version with a Youtube tool, since Youtube’s buffering seems to be a bit hit and miss these days.

 

There’s a lot of other interesting stuff in the same Geek Week vein including the Knightmare one-off (a childrens TV staple for those of a certain age). That was filmed with the original dungeon master, in the original studios!

 

 

 

Graham Hughes Odyssey

Graham Hughes managed to travel around the entire world, without using air transport . He did this in the period Jan 1st 2009 to November 2012. He holds the Guinness World Record for this feat.

On a tight budget Hughes traveled by public transport including trains, buses, boats and whatever he could blag. His accommodation was similarly sourced. He kept a video blog which has been published via YouTube and also used for a National Geographic Channel series.

In his epic journey Graham Hughes managed to visit all the UN recognized countries plus a few extras, totalling 201 nations. He managed to visit 133 in one year. As he states, ten years ago this wouldn’t have been possible, but in todays climate [albeit with a few hiccups] the world is a much freer place.

Here’s the start of his video blog, and you can follow the entire journey via Youtube…

 

The Galaxy Song

Monty Python Sings

Monty Python Sings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown…”

And so begins one of Eric Idle ‘s most memorable songs from Monty Pythons Meaning Of Life. A fun little dittie about how special we all are. Or worthless. Take your pick…

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm , at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the ‘ Milky Way ‘.
Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide.
We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go ’round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe .

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth .

It works better if you see it, so here’s a clip from the always dependable YouTube.

 

 

UK viewers may also remember this advert for  Courts furnishers

 

 

 

I’m not sure how accurate the song is, and I did wonder (as you do) and turned to Wikipedia. However, there’s no need. A study by Paul Kohlmiller shows it’s pretty damned accurate, or accurate enough to work lyrically at least!

Well done, Eric.

 

P.S. A reworked version called the ” Galaxy DNA Song ” is just as good, about, well, biology and life as opposed to physics… This was written for Professor Brian Cox ‘s TV series.

 

 

 

How Tiny We Are


earthist

I  suppose we all know how vast time and space is, and how insignificant our place in it seems.

But knowing and really comprehending are two different things, our minds struggle to accept infinity.

You might have seen the clock model of our time on earth for example, or how brief it’s been since ALL life has been on earth.

The simple animation at “Here Is Today” shows it as a bar graph, and “today” looks tiny even as a percentage of the year, let alone all time…

http://hereistoday.com/

If you want to see how our tiny we are in space, as usual YouTube is full of stuff like…

 

 

 

So really all this is so vast it doesn’t matter to us, we’re the only ones who care. Barring the existence of other life within reach of us, or more unlikely, within the same time as us, there’s no external observer. So the only time that matters is your own, the reality your brain has made for you…

Or – let Brian Cox explain it all 😀

 

 

Still Here…

Oh, how easy it is to let a site go, yet continue with all intentions of starting back up, paying hosting keeping the URL, etc…

And there’s loads I’d like to discuss, movies, books, some excellent new TV series such as Fringe, Eureka, Warehouse 13 etc.

Not to mention the odd game, a ton of interesting sites and services… but the fact is I’ve just been too lazy. That stands for here, plus my Internet Marketing sites that once made money – yet I still let them stall.

Anyway — I mention websites, which brings me to Google and it’s new Google+ Social Network. It’s been both praised and dismissed as a replacement for the ill-fated Wave, or an attempt to take on Facebook. It is of course neither. It’s simply it’s own thing, a very interesting service meant to bring like minded people together, as well as “+1” (vote for) pages, have discussions, share photos, whatever you like. You have complete control over WHAT you share, and WHO you share it with through a very simple concept, yet powerful, “circle” method. It’s easier to see than it is to explain.

So, before I get back into these blogs and sites of mine gathering dust, it’s worth noting my Google+ Profile where’ll you find my posts on that particular service.

I also started a Google Fansite! Well… I figured Google doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. You probably use it every day, like me. May use an Android Smartphone, like me, or Tablet, yep – me again. Google Mail is probably the best in the business, not to mention Google Maps and Streetview, and Google Earth, and even it’s acquisitions like YouTube or Blogger.

Yet it doesn’t really get “fans” as such. Facebook does, as does Linux, even Microsoft, an often demonised corporation. Linux, well, they’re true believers, not fans, and Apple – they’re fanatics 🙂 The point is once in Google’s sphere of influence, you’re likely to stay there. Use it’s start page, it’s e-mail, it’s Calender, perhaps it’s browser Chrome which has morphed into an OS of sorts itself. Throw in Android, which through sheer number of devices is taking over the mobile market fast, and Google can be felt everywhere.

It means people might not like it being that big and powerful. In exchange for these services, which are all free, you are essentially giving them your data. It’s a fair exchange – the data is anonymous, used for advertising (Google’s main revenue) so for Google it’s sole aim is to get as many web users in as many services as it can. But it doesn’t cut corners, or plaster the services with ads – and they’re not really “tracking” you as such though you get the odd creepy moment where you were just shopping for something and it starts popping up in ads… You don’t even have to share this data in the first place, Google is pretty open, and if you took the time, you’d find out how top opt out of, say, search history, or certain cookies often used, even benign ones used by Google Analytics (a free service for webmasters) which are simply used to tell the site owner what kind of visitors they get.

This kind of discussion, as well as product-specific discussions, tips,  advice, and much more can be used on my Google+ Fan Page

 

You’ll also find the link to my personal profile there, since Google+ interestingly treats each page, or person, as it’s own entity. Give it a go – and take a second to think of how much Google has helped you, your life, your internet usage over the years versus any media-overblown negatives. See you there!

$000,000,000’s Visualised

Billion Dollar Gram

From the amazing site ” Information Is Beautiful ” comes this visualisation of how billions of dollars are spent around the world, in relative terms.

You can instantly see, for example, that at first glance the cost of the Iraq War seems to dwarf all others, until you look further down and see the “worst case” total cost of the world financial meltdown.

$000,000,000 costs in relative terms

(The US 9-zero for billion costs seems to have become the norm, whereas in the UK it makes more sense to me be a “thousand million” with a million million being a billion, i.e. 12 zeros. Guess the US won out on that one!)

Other interesting info-graphics from Information Is Beautiful include:

There are other websites on the net with some very thought provoking visualisations and info-graphics including Mark Easton’s blog at BBC News, Infosthetics , The Guardian Datablog’s Flickr Group , Wall Stats , Cool Infographics and there’s more listed in this article at Smashing Magazine .

You could even make your own using widgets from the Google Visulisation project!

Xenocide (Ender Saga) by Orson Scott Card – Review

Ender Series Boxset

Ender Series Boxset

Xenocide is the fourth novel in the Ender series, and the penultimate of the series overall – even though it is succeeded by the “Shadow” series. I know this review is going to be messy. It’s hard to summarise the ideas and thoughts in this series here, but I’ll try.

If you’ve read Speaker For The Dead you’ll know more or less what to expect. It follows the same story to it’s almost conclusion. Be warned: This novel – and the proceeding one – is both scientific and philosophical in nature, and far removed from the action in “Ender’s Game”.

If you remember the end of Speaker For The Dead brought Ender to make a pact with the Pequeninos. He also married Novalhina, made this adopted family his own, and met up with Valentine – his sister. He also established the Hive Queen on Lusitania, representing the last remaining living Bugger colony, and learned a little more about the sinister-but-essential Descolada Virus which rules the planet.

Now, Ender and his family and friends face a few problems on Lusitania.  For one, the Starways Congress has sent a fleet to destroy the planet with the Dr. Device, because the infitely adaptable Descolada Virus represents a threat to humanity – or indeed, all life.

To attempt to stall this Jane – the “ghost in the machine”, the entity that inhabits the Ansible network – has cut off communication to the fleet. But this has resulted in her influence being shown.

The person tasked to discover her is Han Qing-Jao, an inhabitant of Path – a Chinese world. On this world the most highly intelligent people are the “God Spoken”. They are highly intelligent, but exhibit all the mannerisms of Obsessive Compusive Disorder, then believe it to be a punishment from the Gods.

Finally the Pequeninos and Hive Queen both want to leave Lusitania and colonize other worlds, to preserve their species. Unfortunately they carry the Descolada, and thus could end up destroying worlds, or even the universe. This also presents a dilema to the humans, on whether to stop them or allow them to leave.

These ideas of life – which species should continue, if any? – pervade this novel.

It’s a race against time. The fleet is due to arrive soon. Han Qing-Jao eventually discovers the truth of Jane’s existence, and informs the Congress that all Ansibles must be replaced. This will take about 40 weeks.

Jane informs Han Qing and her highly respected father Han Fei-Tzu the truth about their Godspoken. It seems that the Congress deliberately genetically-modified Path’s inhabitants to both become hyper-intelligent but they were also crippled with the OCD in order to temper the frightening powers. While Han Fei-Tzu believes this, his daughter does not, thinking it to be a demonic plot to drive away the Gods. She is far too immersed in her religion, in part caused by her upbringing and tutoring by her father, to believe anything.

With some of the brightest minds on Lusitania and Path struggling to find answers about the Descolada, Faster Than Light travel (as a way to escape), and the truth about Jane the book enters it’s final part.

In part suggested by the Han’s secret-maid, Si Wang-Mu , it is thought the Descolada is a deliberate attempt at terraforming or planetry control instigated by some higher intelligence. The virus takes over entire planets and species, and genetically controls them in a “gaiacentric” way to keep the ecology stable. It is unkown whether the Pequeninos themselves are actually intelligent or only intelligent-by-proxy (via Descolada) but an experiment where one piggy has the virus removed yet remains intelligent up to his death disproves this.

There is some argument amongst the Ribeiras (Ender’s adopted family – who are also the scientists on Lusitania) whether or not the virus is sentient, and should be protected, but in the end they decide to create a crippled version – the Recolada – that will sustain life functions but give back free will and free them from genetic modification. This would allow all species to survive without being contagious or reliant on the virus to live. It’s duly designed by Quara and Ela.

Then the truth about Jane is discovered during a confusing meeting between Ender and the Hive Queen. Although the Hive Queen can only communicate mind-to-mind and thus is unable to to really comprehend human thought and vision, Ender discovers that Jane is in fact a part of him, or at least anchored in him, created long ago as a “pattern” that enabled the Hive Queen to communicate with Ender via his mind-game computer (in Enders Game). Jane, thus freed from believing she is only part of the universe-wide Ansible network, can survive the switch off in some form, albeit it crippled until she can rebuild her memories.

It’s the last part of the book that starts to throw you, as it rather heavily relies on science, or at least the science in this universe. It doesn’t cheat, and it’s not a “McGuffin” – because hints have been developed earlier in the novel and indeed in the series – but it does take some thinking about.

The basic premise is that the matter can be broken down to it’s smallest component, the Philote, that is indeed all that really counts. There’s a parallel universe of sorts that is infinitely composed of Philotes – and it’s those that came into our universe that created the so-called Big Bang. The Hive Queen herself – or at least her mind/intelligence – is a Philote (or pattern of) from that universe. And Jane is also a similiar Philote, brought into being in the Hive Queen/Ender pattern. Philotic connections power the Ansible, to enable instantaneous communication*. And each and every person, or indeed thing, is Philote based.

These Philotes are existence itself. They are infinite, and essentially make the idea of “thought as reality” a truth. Everything is a pattern, anchored or formed from Philotes, and the Hive Queen and Ansibles rely on this even though they don’t understand how it works.

* The whole Ansible communication theory, of one Philote directly linked to others, smacks of “Quantum Entanglement” , but we won’t go there.

This Philote-theory of the universe neatly solves all the problems on Lusitania, and indeed Path. By building a “Faster Than Light” ship (just a Hive Queen manufactured shell) that can jump from here (the Inside) to the parallel-universe (the Outside, a kind of primordial soup of raw Philotic matter) Jane can – by holding the entire pattern of the ship and contents in her mind – go to anywhere in the universe instantly. She simply switches the Philote-pattern from here to there, but since “there” has no time or location she can come back “here” anywhere (and I guess anytime?). Also any pattern that can be conceived can also come into being thanks to the Philotes….

This means Eva manages to create the new Rotolada by simply holding it’s details in mind, and even create a anti-OCD solution for the inhabitants of Path based on the Descolada. It means Ender’s stepson Miro – crippled in the last novel – can re-create his old, perfect body, and it means Ender brings into existence his idealized versions of young-Valentine and young-Peter by accident.

To be honest the last part of the book is rather mind bending and I’m sure I’m at least partly wrong on the details, but still… it’s a blast! Orson Scott Card has a wonderful imagination and as long as you can suspend your disbelief you’ll find yourself going along with the plot whether you understand the “science” or not.

While you don’t have to read Ender’s Game both Speaker For The Dead and Xenocide really form one long novel. Heavy on Philosphy, Religion and Humanity this is not your traditional Science Fiction – strange new worlds and space travel aside.

Descolada cured, we finish with the new young- Peter and Valentine becoming the anchors for Jane in place of Ender – since they are both really subsets of his own mind – and taken off in FTL ships to explore the universe. Peter to deliver the genetic OCD remedy to Path, and then to take on the Starways Congress, and Val to deliver the Hive Queens and Pequelino Father-Trees to their new colonies.

The story continues, in Children Of The Mind. Whether that refers to Peter and Val being “Children” of Ender’s Mind or to the quasi-religious group set up in the series I don’t know, but I’ll find out soon!

Rated: 8.5 / 10 – Can get confusing, but ultimately a uniquely rewarding read.

New Literal Music Video

Here’s a new “Literal Video” from Dustfilms.com. If you haven’t seen the others, they’re at this post .

This time it’s the Red Hot Chilli Peppers with Under The Bridge – as it should be 🙂

Another View of America

Do you, like most, hold a stereotypical view of America? Do you think Texas is full of “rednecks”, the cuisine is mainly McDonalds, that “trailer parks” are full of the down-and-out?

Jon Kelly – a BBC reporter taking a special election bus across America – has been stopping in some unusual places to show the real america. He’s keeping a blog to show where he’s been.

It’s the comments that make this blog. Of course, there’s dissenting views about what constitutes an “american” and where he should have visited, but I love it. You can’t please everyone, and he can’t go everywhere, but he’s made some astute choices on what he’s reported about.

Visit the blog here: Jon Kelly’s American Election Bus